This guest blog post was written by doula Ash Spivak and is excerpted from the book Why Did No One Tell Me This? by Natalia Hailes and Ash Spivak, published by Running Press, a division of Hachette Book Group.
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan.
There is so much fear around childbirth… likely in part because most of us know very little about it until we’re in it. But here is the good news no one really tells you... Our bodies have been prepping for this since we first got our periods!
Here are some cool ways your body works with you and for you throughout the process.
"Our bodies have been prepping for this since we first got our periods."
Your Uterus Was Made For This
Each and every cycle, your uterus works tirelessly to build up its inner layer so that if fertilization occurs it is ready to support implantation. If fertilization doesn’t happen, the uterus sheds the lining— that’s your period blood— and the process starts all over again. Not only is your uterus smart enough to get rid of what it no longer needs (#lifelesson); it is also crazy resilient.
Your uterus grows a whole new lining after shedding the previous one, just in case there’s better luck next time or the time after that... When implantation does occur, your uterus is certainly ready to finally get to build a home for your babe, even if it needs a little outside help to get going.
Oh, and, those period cramps you may have been experiencing for years? They are actually uterine contractions! They help your uterine lining move from the uterus through the cervix and out of the vagina. During labor, uterine contractions are how you will get your baby to move from the uterus through the cervix and out of the vagina. NBD. So, while menstrual cramps and active labor contractions may certainly feel different, it can be a nice reminder that this whole uterine contraction thing isn’t entirely new for you.
Your Cervix Already Knows How To Open
Maybe you’ve heard that you must “get to 10” in order for your baby to be born. This is referring to your cervix dilating or opening to approximately ten centimeters or four inches in order for baby’s head to fit through. That’s a whole lot of opening! But this isn’t a new trick for your cervix. Your cervix has actually been opening and changing with every cycle since your very first period.
During ovulation— when the egg is released— the cervix softens, lifts higher in the body to make it easier for fertilization to occur, and opens slightly for sperm to enter. Then it closes back up. When you bleed, the cervix opens again and lowers in the body to help the uterine lining flow more easily out of the vagina. And then it closes again.
Your Vagina Has A Black Belt
Ever wonder what’s up with that white stuff in your underwear? That’s your cervical fluid and it’s proof that your vagina is stellar at self-defense. It is also proof that your vagina is very capable of protecting your baby.
The cervical fluid does two very important things: One: prior to pregnancy, your cervical fluid changes consistency throughout your cycle (maybe you’ve noticed sometimes it’s more watery and other times more "globby" or "stretchy") to either help, around ovulation, or prevent, the rest of the time, sperm from being able to reach the egg. Sperm won’t survive without your fluid helping it along. Two: the fluid carries out dead cells and bacteria to guard against infection.
You may notice you’ve had increased fluid during your pregnancy—this is your body working overtime to cleanse and protect itself. The mechanism by which your body produces this fluid is similar to how your mucus plug is created.
This Isn't The First Time Your Vagina Has Grown
During orgasms, the vagina becomes engorged, aka the vaginal walls flood with blood and cause the vagina to grow in size. So, your vagina has been growing and shrinking since the beginning of your sexual life (or at least every time you O).
Your Milk Glands Have Been Activated Before
Your milk glands are activated during every cycle since you first got your period! Your breasts/chest changes throughout the cycle, practicing for lactation. When you bleed, your milk glands enlarge in case fertilization occurs when you next ovulate. (This is why you may feel like your boobs are lumpier during this time.) As you inch toward ovulation, your milk ducts also grow. If no fertilization occurs, the stimulation of your milk glands will just start all over again.
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